Why Are There Different Types of Therapy?

Mental health therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of intervention; instead, there are many different approaches to therapy.


Everyone is different – Though most human beings share some common attributes, every individual still has a unique set of needs, problems, and perspectives to life. This means that the same approaches will not work for everyone, creating the need for different modes of mental health therapy. 


Different therapies are based on different theories as to where our emotional and mental distress comes from and how it can be eased. Certain therapies also focus on specific kinds of distress; for instance, trauma-informed therapy would not be appropriate for helping someone who is struggling with grief.


Most therapists draw on multiple modes of therapy during treatment, depending on the therapist’s own training and a person’s specific struggles and personality. For example, a more analytical personality might respond better to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) than mindfulness. And while CBT is appropriate for helping people with anxious and depressed feelings, it’s not helpful for people with obsessive-compulsive struggles. 


Most common types of therapy


The following modes of therapy are most commonly used; they are also the methods with the most scientific study and evidence to support their effectiveness. 


Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
This type of therapy focuses on how a person thinks and behaves. It is a short-course form of therapy that is based on the principle that we all have foundational beliefs about ourselves, other people, and the world, and these can influence our thoughts and behaviour in ways that cause us distress. CBT is used to help people recognise and change their dysfunctional thinking, unhealthy behaviours, and negative emotions. 


Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)
This is a sub-type of CBT that gives extra weight to learning strategies to regulate our emotions and developing the ability to accept our thoughts and emotions


Mindfulness therapy

This type of therapy aims to help people be more present in the moment, rather than dwelling in the past or anticipating the future. It also aims to help people become more aware of themselves and their thoughts, emotions, behaviours, and environment. With this awareness, a person can then work on being less reactionary and acting more thoughtfully instead. Mindfulness therapy is often combined with CBT and other modes of therapy.


Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

This type of therapy is designed to help people accept their distressing emotions and thoughts without judgement, rather than resist, control, ignore, deny, or suppress them. This skill is known as psychological flexibility, and self-compassion plays a big role in developing it. ACT also helps people to identify their personal values and orient their lives toward these values, with the idea that living according to our values will not eliminate distressing emotions, but will at least make them more tolerable. ACT is often combined with mindfulness methods of therapy.


Person-centred therapy

This form of talk therapy views the person as best able to discover the solutions to their distress and able to identify the changes they need to make toward those solutions; the therapist is an active, non-judgemental listener during the journey.


Narrative therapy

This type of therapy views a person as distinct from their struggles and behaviour – the person is the author and struggles and behaviours are storylines that can be changed. This promotes a level of objectivity that helps the person “rewrite” the story of their life in a way that enables them to make healthy changes that ease their distress.

Solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT)

A short-term form of therapy that focuses on identifying solutions to present distress and exploring future plans, rather than examining the past. Similar to person-centred therapy, SFBT positions the person as having both struggles and solutions, which they reach with the help of questions and coaching from the therapist.

Psychoanalytic therapy

This is the oldest form of therapy and the most well-known. It is an in-depth form of talk therapy that focuses on the impact of the past on the present and aims to uncover and examine unconscious thoughts and feelings.


Other influences of therapeutic methods


The above modes of therapy describe the underlying theory and overarching aim of intervention. But certain lenses can be layered on top of those for better effect, such as the following:


Affirmative therapy

As a contrast to decades of pathologising non-straight sexual orientations, therapists created affirmative therapy. This method helps LGBTQ+ people work through their mental health concerns via the lens of a positive, affirming attitude towards their identity.


Feminist therapy

This therapy method acknowledges that people who present as women will face oppression in society due to their gender identity. Through this lens, therapists help clients navigate their emotional and mental health struggles.


Religion + therapy

Some therapists combine religious philosophy or teachings along with science-based therapy to help people develop a value-based framework for life.


A therapist of the same race/ethnicity/community

A therapist who shares an aspect of identity or social experience with a patient can bring a validating and insightful lens that makes therapy more nuanced and effective.


Therapy for major life events or health conditions

Sometimes, it is hard to cope with life events like the discovery of a health condition, severe illness, death, divorce, and more. In this case therapists who specialise in these scenarios can offer the support that will help people get back on their feet. Some examples of this include grief therapy, therapy for life-threatening diseases like cancer, therapy for divorce, therapy for infertility, therapy for postpartum circumstances, therapy for miscarriages, therapy for sexual dysfunction, and more. 


How do I know what type of therapy is right for me?


The therapist is best positioned to decide what type of therapy is right for any given patient. A quality therapist will customise, to a degree, the methods they use with each patient – and redirect the patient to a different therapist if they lack the experience or certification in a better-suited type of therapy. 


However, it’s natural to have questions about what type of therapy you’ll engage in, and a quality therapist should welcome a conversation around the methods they intend to use. 


Ultimately, most therapists draw from multiple modes of therapy and therapeutic theory to create a unique offering for each person’s unique concerns. 

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